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Saturday, 22 July 2017

Friday Reflections - 65

We have enjoyed the first week of our summer break, although it always takes me a few days to adjust to the change of pace!

The children have spent much of the week building Lego together, followed by playing with their creations. My 10 year old also made a stop motion film with the Lego one afternoon.

In addition, there has been plenty of reading happening. Books are always popular anyway, but we have begun our annual Summer Reading Challenge, which has added to the enthusiasm. The children are already making very good progress, while Michael and I are just about keeping up with where we need to be if we are going to complete our challenges!


For me, the summer means getting on with lots of household jobs, as well as planning the children's education for the following year. I have a number of sides of A4 paper with jobs on. I've only managed a few so far, but there is still quite a lot of summer left. The planning for curriculum is going well, and I have managed to choose and order most things for next year already. Parcels of books are arriving most days.


Next week will be more of the same for a few days, followed by setting off on holiday. We are hoping to climb a mountain or two again this summer, and enjoy a complete change of scene in the Lake District and then North Wales.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Home Education Resources

Our eldest child is now almost 12, and has completed his primary education. Of course, the change from Year 6 to Year 7 will be less marked for a home educated child (though there will be differences), but nonetheless it feels like a significant milestone. At this stage, I thought it might be helpful to describe the core curricula that we have used for our primary school aged children over the last few years. 

All primary school aged now - but not for much longer!
Here are the key resources that have formed the basis for our teaching while our children are primary school aged:


Maths

Singapore Maths

We have used the Singapore Math Standards Edition since we began home educating our eldest when he was 4 (he's nearly 12 now). This has been the core curriculum we have used for all our children. It is thorough and stretching. Here are some of its main strengths as a maths programme:

  • One of the key features of Singapore maths is the way it explains concepts from concrete to pictorial to abstract.
  • It is also very good at giving students good techniques for tackling difficult word problems. 
  • I also like the way that a number of methods for tackling different questions are given, which aids understanding of the concepts involved as well as equipping the children to handle problems in different ways. 
  • Often a topic or concept is approached from a number of different angles, so that you really need to understand the maths involved, not just memorise a technique for answering a particular type of question
When we began home education, this edition was available in the U.K.. We also bought the incredibly helpful Home Instructor's Guides to use too. There is now a U.K. edition of Singapore maths (available from Icthus Resources here) which we would probably use if we were starting again now (it wasn't around when we began!).

Beast Academy 

My 8 year old is an able, and enthusiastic, mathematician, so I spent quite a while researching extra maths for him to do last year. My key criteria were that I wanted something that he could do fairly independently, a curriculum that would stretch his maths in new ways, and something that didn't involve being on the computer. Beast Academy was an expensive choice (I could only import it from the U.S. (here)- not cheap!), but it is brilliant, and he has loved it.

The guides explain the topics in a comic book form. There are then exercises to work on in a separate book. The exercises have been pretty difficult at times, but this has been great for a boy who enjoys the challenge. He has, on the whole, been able to work independently, though asking me to help when he needs it. If I can't help, then we go to Michael (PhD in maths)! The answers include explanations of how to tackle the problems, which is helpful for when we all get stuck.

Squeebles

Squeebles Times Tables is an app that we use for practising times tables. We have also used the app for addition and subtraction. It's simple, but has been very effective supplement to the maths curriculum for the children.

Maths Whizz

This is an online programme which I initially used as a supplement for my eldest when he wasn't enjoying maths very much for a while. It's quite a good extra for the children, though no replacement for a thorough maths curriculum. I only use it for the youngest (nearly 6) now, and she will probably outgrow it in the next year. It's strength is that it teaches a topic and progresses the child at their level. However, there isn't much practice at each level before you move on, and sometimes I think my children move up the levels quicker than they should! However, it is fun, and introduces lots of different topics in entertaining ways.

English

Building Christian English Series (Rod & Staff) 


This is a thorough grammar curriculum, comprising a series of text books covering grammar and some writing for Grades 1-10 (Year 2 and up in UK terms). We have begun with the Grade 3 book (Beginning Wisely) with our children once they have reached about age 7, and this has worked well. This contains clear explanations of all key points of grammar, and plenty of exercises for practice (more than we have needed, in fact).

We chose this because it is rigorous in terms of its content. As Rod & Staff is a Mennonite publisher, the examples used are often Christian. Often this is a real advantage, as Bible stories are used as examples, and there is a section in each book about using Bible dictionaries and so on, which is quite fun. However, some of the stories are a little moralistic in tone, though usually they have been fine. Sometimes the exercises assume a knowledge of farming, or an ownership of livestock (!) etc that doesn't apply to us - but this has been either informative or entertaining, and hasn't taken away from what is a good English programme.

All About Reading & All About Spelling

I started using different materials with my older two, but in the end even my second eldest is working through All About Spelling, and doing very well with it. I have written here about these resources. They are excellent phonics programmes teaching reading and spelling respectively. Although time intensive, and relatively expensive, they are very good and well worth the investment of both time and money. These resources can be purchased from Conquest Books, here.

Writing With Ease

This is a method of teaching writing outlined in The Well Trained Mind by Jessie Wise & Susan Wise Bauer. The book The Complete Writer: Writing With Ease by Susan Wise Bauer outlines the principles in detail. The idea is to learn to write really well, though in small amounts, before you move on to writing more extensively.

There are also workbooks available in 4 levels, which contain a combination of copywork, narration exercises (summarising narrative), dictation exercises, and, eventually, writing original sentences. We have used the 4 workbooks with our children, which include all the texts you need and student pages for the children to write on, and is very much open-and-go. I have been able to buy these books from Amazon.

Writing With Skill

This year, our eldest began to use Writing With Skill, which follows on from Writing With Ease. Although it follows on, it is a big step up. Although it has worked well for our eldest as a year 6 writing programme, our next boy will be using Writing With Ease Level 4 in year 6, and I will be more than happy with him beginning Writing With Skill in year 7. It teaches key skills such as writing scientific descriptions or taking notes. Recently, my son has been learning how to write footnotes. We're taking it slowly, but it has been a good fit for my eldest this year. This resource is available from Amazon (you need a copy of the Instructor Text and the Student Workbook).

Bible

XTB/Discover Bible Notes

XTB works well from 5/6 up, and we have found that Discover notes have been popular with our older boys who really liked XTB, but outgrew it. They consist of simple activities focused on a number of different books of the Bible, with ideas for application and prayer at the end. We have bought these from 10ofThose or The Good Book Company.

Bible Teaching

I've written here about how I teach my way through the Bible with the children, mainly by reading chunks, asking questions, and getting the children to draw or write about what we have read together.

Morning Devotions

Each morning Michael leads devotions for the whole family. We have used a range of different materials for this, and sometimes Michael has just taken us through a book of the Bible a little at a time. When the children were younger, we have used Table Talk notes (which tie in with XTB). More recently, we have enjoyed The Big Picture Family Devotional by David R. Helm and Wise Up by Marty Machowski. We have bought these from 10ofThose or The Good Book Company.

Science

Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding

I have written about this curriculum here.

This is an excellent curriculum, and science lessons are very popular. It's both hands on and highly logical and structured, which is brilliant. There are 3 volumes, and we have nearly finished volume 2 for our older two boys, and plan to use the third volume as our eldest enters year 7. The lessons follow through four different streams of scientific study in parallel (Nature of Matter, Life Science, Physical Science, and Earth and Space Science) , with each lesson building on the work covered in previous sessions. It has provided a very solid grounding in science for our children, as well as producing considerable enthusiasm for science.

Exploring Nature With Children

Exploring Nature With Children
 has been a new addition this year, and has worked well for all ages. It is a book (available as a PDF) which contains weekly ideas for a nature walk, covering the whole year. There is a helpful explanation of the subject each week, tips for what to draw or write in a nature journal, and several ideas for extension activities.


Latin 

Latin Prep (Galore Park)

This course is heavily grammar based, which is why I like it so much. A thorough grounding in good grammar is key for learning Latin. It also has lots of translating from English into Latin (as well as Latin into English, of course) which, again, helps with strong grammar. Nonetheless, it isn't a dry course, and my boys have enjoyed it. It has now been replace by a new Galore Park Latin course, which I have been using with another family that I teach Latin to, and which seems equally good. These books are available from Amazon or from Galore Park directly.


Greek

Introduction to Classical Greek (Galore Park)


I've just started using this book with my eldest this year. It's pretty good on the whole, though I would have preferred more careful explanations in places. Again, there is a good focus on grammar, a good amount of English to Greek required, and lots of practice exercises.

However, it introduces new concepts without explaining them from time to time - presumably relying on a prior study of Latin. Since I know Greek, and my son has been studying Latin for a while this hasn't been a problem, but I don't think it's ideal. There are also a strangely large number of sudoku puzzles (with Greek letters) - but I now leave these out!

These books are available from Amazon or from Galore Park directly.


Computer Stuff

Code.org

This website provides a free series of coding lessons, which a child can work through step-by-step once they have been signed up. There are lots of puzzles to solve by putting together bits of code.

www.typing.com

Another free resource, this enables children to learn to touch type as they move up the various levels available. There are also games to play which rely on good typing, which my children have enjoyed.


Art

I've written in more detail about our art resources here.

Draw Write Now

These books give step-by-step instructions for drawing various creatures or people as well as good ideas for creating backgrounds. They are particularly good for younger children (5 and up).

Usborne Art Books

In particular, The Usborne Complete Book of Art Ideas has been a rich source of inspiration, and a good way to introduce different art techniques.

Art Achieve

These online lessons have worked well for us, and it has been worth investing in the lessons. The instructions are clear, and the artworks the children have produced have been good.

History

Story of the World

I have written about this curriculum here.

The Story of the World by Susan Wise Bauer is a narrative history of the world told in four volumes, with an activity book that can be used alongside it.  It is really good for getting an idea of how history fits together. The activities have also been a lot of fun to do together. The map work that is included in the activity book has also been very good. These books can be bought from Amazon.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Friday Reflections - 64

The highlight of the week for us was our visit to the Summer Science Exhibition, hosted by the Royal Society. We spent much of Saturday there, and the children had a fantastic time.

One of the exhibits was about imaging the heart, and the children enjoyed holding beating "hearts" which beat in time to their own heart beats.

Here is my daughter having her turn:



We looked at fluorescent coral, tried out a HoloLens (augmented reality), looked at models of molecular cages, and learned about Mars - and many other things too.

Wearing a HoloLens

Some of what we collected.

After such a fun Saturday, the rest of the week has been fairly ordinary as we have been determined to get all our work done so that we could get to the end of all our books by the end of today, and earn an extra week of summer holiday. We did it! Everyone worked hard, though some had more to finish than others.

I am pretty tired, but the planning for next year is already underway. Over the weekend, I plan to write my list of jobs for the summer - both household and home education related tasks. It may be a few days before I have the energy to actually start the jobs though - but at least I'll have some lists!

Friday, 7 July 2017

Friday Reflections - 63

Last Saturday, my 8 year old ran his first parkrun. He has been inspired by his sister, and was very excited to go for the first time. My husband kindly ran with him and our 5 year old so that I could run quickly, which was fun for me. After I had finished, I met the children near the end of their final lap so that our daughter could sprint to the end while I ran with our 8 year old. Both my daughter and I managed our fastest runs yet, which was very satisfying.


Tired After Running!

At the moment, our aim is to finish as much as possible by next Friday, so we are pushing on through the final pages of the books. Some have finished up some subjects, others still have a bit more to do - but we are on track. I am as keen as the children for our summer break to begin - we are really ready for a few weeks off!

In the midst of all the work, my eldest has been making cardboard weapons for all the children, with a bit of help from his siblings at times. It's been a lot of fun!


Armed!

Lots of Weapons

Today we had our final home education group of term, and of the year. It's been good - but a break for the summer is nonetheless welcome!

Today we did our final South America session, making cookie dough maps and planting rainforests in jars (we'll see if they actually grow!).

South America

Rainforest in a Jar

This was also our final session focusing on different countries in the world as South America was the last continent left to cover. We have plans for next year, but they will need quite a bit of work before we are able to implement them!

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Four Excellent Books (My Committed Reader Choices)

I am half-way through the Christian Reading Challenge that I am working on this year. It has required quite a bit of discipline to keep going at this rate; two books a week is fairly challenging. However, it has been very much worthwhile. I have read lots of good books, and a few excellent ones. Here are my top four from the last set of books:


The Whole Christ by Sinclair B.Ferguson

I picked up this book because one of the categories on my reading list was A book by Sinclair Ferguson, and my husband had bought it because he had heard good things about it. I chose it without really knowing what it was about - but it was one of the most enriching books I have read this year.

The central hinge of the book is a subtle, and obscure, theological debate from 18th century Scotland called The Marrow Controversy. The careful explanation of the issues at stake then - issues of law and grace and what it means to live as a Christian - is crisp and clear and accessible.

Furthermore, Sinclair Ferguson demonstrates the relevance to today of these issues. In particular, he helpfully shows how a tendency towards antinomianism springs from the same fundamental misunderstanding of the gospel, and of the character of God, that a propensity towards legalism does.

Reading The Whole Christ certainly stretched my mind. However, the quality and clarity of the writing meant that I looked forward to picking it up. This is no small thing when your reading often happens late at night, or in short bursts of time found in the midst of the mayhem of a home educating household!

I also found this a deeply encouraging read, a book that pointed back to Jesus again and again, and which showed the joy of free grace and forgiveness, and the same joy of being freed to live for Christ.


Invest your Suffering by Paul Mallard

Invest your Suffering is a moving, warmly written account of the goodness and kindness and love of God in the midst of suffering. Paul Mallard writes about the pain and difficulties faced by his wife as she has endured chronic illness over a number of years, and about the lessons the Lord has taught them both as they faced these difficulties while clinging to Christ.

For a short book, it covers a lot of ground: the brokenness of the world, the gospel of hope, the lessons we learn as we suffer, our hope of  the new creation. Each chapter is framed by a little more of the personal story of the author and his wife, which gives poignancy to the truths that he explains. However, the book is first and foremost about God and his character - and our reasons to put our hope in him in the midst of suffering.

The Unquenchable Flame by Michael Reeves

This is an excellent book about the reformation. It introduces the key issues at stake, some of the key figures involved, and explains how events unfolded in Europe at the time. It deals with both the historical events and the theological issues clearly and fairly succinctly, but without being simplistic. The writing is engaging and fresh, which makes it enjoyable to read.

I also found the way the material is arranged in the chapters helpful, in that each chapter is divided into short sub-sections. Again, I often get to read in short bursts throughout the day, and this makes it much easier for me to manage without losing the thread of the narrative.

A Better Story: God, Sex & Human Flourishing by Glynn Harrison

Glynn Harrison's book examines the story our current culture tells about sex and sexuality, and looks at the promises it makes (and fails to keep) in these areas. He looks at the roots this narrative sprung from, and how it appeals to our hearts. He does this with both clarity and compassion.

More importantly, the central theme of the book is how we as Christians need not to focus only on winning the intellectual arguments about issues to do with sexuality, but also to engage people's hearts as we tell a better story; a story bound up in the gospel, and a story that speaks better to our desires for fulfilment, or to our concerns about injustice, or to our search for our identity than any story that our culture tells us.


Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Obsessed Reader Books (My Choices) - 2017 Christian Reading Challenge

I'm embarking on the final stage of the Christian Reading Challenge that we have been working on as a family this year.



Here are my choices:

1. A book you have started but never finished: Don Quixote by Miguel De Cervantes

2. A book about church history: Luther and the 9.5 Theses by Kenneth Brownell

3. A book about holiness or sanctification: Discipline, The Glad Surrender by Elisabeth Elliot

4. A book about science: Periodic Tales by Hugh Aldersey-Williams

5. A book used as a seminary textbook: The Doctrine of God by John M. Frame

6. A book on the ECPA bestseller list: New Morning Mercies by Paul David Tripp

7. A book about productivity or time management: Time for Everything? by Matt Fuller

8. A book of your choice: Adventures in Human Being by Gavin Francis

9. A book about spiritual disciplines: Enjoy Your Prayer Life by Michael Reeves

10. A book about parenting: Age of Opportunity, A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens by Paul David Tripp

11. A book about Christian living: The Radical Disciple by John Stott

12. A book by Iain Murray: J.C. Ryle: Prepared to Stand Alone by Iain H. Murray

13. A book about business: Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-free Productivity by David Allen

14. A book about theology: Union With Christ by Robert Letham

15. A book about marriage: Glorious Union: Flourishing in Marriage and Ministry by Adrian & Celia Reynolds

16. A photo essay book: Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton

17. A book of comics: The Far Side Gallery by Gary Larson

18. A book about the Second World War: The Man Who Never Was by Ewen Montagu

19. A book by a Puritan: Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan

20. A book about preaching or public speaking: The Word Became Fresh: How to Preach from Old Testament Narrative Texts by Dale Ralph Davis

21. A book of your choice: I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb

22. A book about suffering: Where was God when that happened? by Christopher Ash

23. A book about evangelism: Honest Evangelism by Rico Tice with Carl Laferton

24. A book by your favourite author: Beren and Luthien by J.R.R. Tolkein and Christopher Tolkein

25. A book you have read before: I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

26. A Christian novel: War in the Wasteland by Douglas Bond

27. A biography of a Christian: John Newton by Jonathan Aitken

28. A book about the natural world: The Birds Our Teachers by John Stott

29. A novel for young adults: Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman

30. A novel longer than 400 pages: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

31. A book about history: Great Britain’s Great War by Jeremy Paxman

32. A book about the Bible: Bible Delight by Christopher Ash

33. A book recommended by a friend: Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis by Michael Ward

34. A book published by P&R Publications: The Case for Covenantal Infant Baptism by Gregg Strawbridge

35. A book with an ugly cover: Grow in Grace by Sinclair B. Ferguson

36. A book by or about a martyr: Thomas Cranmer by Colin Hamer

37. A book of your choice: The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

38. A book about Christian living: A New Day by Emma Scrivener

39. A book about church history: The English Puritans by John Brown

40. A book about money or finance: Money Counts by Graham Beynon

41. A book about leadership: Ready Steady Grow by Ray Evans

42. A book by John Piper: This Momentary Marriage by John Piper

43. A book about theology: The Scriptures Testify About Me: Jesus and the Gospel in the Old Testament Edited by Don Carson

44. A book for children or teens: Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

45. A book about sexuality: What does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality by Kevin DeYoung

46. A book about writing: Negotiating with the Dead by Margaret Atwood

47. A book about current events: Selfie: How We Became So Self-Obsessed and What It’s Doing to Us by Will Storr

48. A biography of a world leader: Margaret Thatcher: The Authorised Biography: Volume One by Charles Moore

49. A book about the church: Stop Dating the Church by Joshua D. Harris

50. A book of your choice: Shakespeare’s Restless World by Neil MacGregor

51. A book about a hobby: The Northern Fells (Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells): 5 by Alfred Wainwright and Chris Jesty

52. A book written in the twentieth century: A Change of Climate by Hilary Mantel

Friday, 30 June 2017

Friday Reflections - 62

We've had a fairly ordinary, steady week, which we need as we finish off all our work before the summer holidays begin. We are well on track, with some subjects already completed for the year, and with the end very much in sight for the others. 

We went on a nature walk earlier in the week, and looked for honey bees to draw and to examine. Our local museum has a hive in a glass case that you can observe, which was perfect for our studies. We spent some time outside watching and drawing the bees before popping inside the museum to look at the hive. It's great to have this resource a ten minute walk away!




We also took some time one afternoon to complete an art lesson. This week, the children were drawing elephants.



On Wednesday, I took three of our children running round the park, along with two of their friends. It was a particularly successful week, with 4 of the children managing 3 laps of the park, which is 3 miles - a first for most of them. They were all very tired afterwards!

This means that my 8 year old is planning to come along to parkrun with his sister tomorrow - which he is very excited about.


Friday, 23 June 2017

Friday Reflections - 61

Last Sunday we celebrated Fathers' Day in a low key way with homemade gifts for Michael from the children. The children have spotted his love of tea, so the younger 3 decorated mugs for him - mainly with pictures of cups of tea. My 8 year old kindly drew a picture of a cup of tea pouring forth maths questions; he knows his dad well. My 11 year old carefully illustrated some new bookmarks with pictures from Dr Who - a shared interest.

Fathers' Day Gifts

Further celebrations happened on Monday when my second son turned 10. He's such a lovely boy, and he thoroughly enjoyed his birthday. All he wanted to do was make his own cake and have a couple of friends round to share it with. Since the weather was so hot, we had the paddling pool out and the children spent most of the day in it (we don't usually work on birthdays!).

Cake!

A Surprise on the Inside

Actually, they were in the paddling pool most days this week, and had a number of water fights- one of their favourite summer activities.

Water Fight

Today I took 3 of the children to our home education group, which this week was a picnic in the park. Most of the time the children played in the playground (or, more often, the bushes nearby), but we did meet in our book groups briefly to read some poetry and talk a bit about our books for the term.

My 10 year old has headed off to stay with his best friend for the weekend - a special birthday treat for both boys. He was incredibly excited, and has spent quite a while in the kitchen making lime macaroons to take with him! I'm sure he will have a lovely time.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Christian Children's Books (A Long List!)

Over the years, we've built up quite a collection of Christian books for children, ranging from those aimed at toddlers to those suitable for younger teenagers too. This list is a fairly comprehensive outline of our favourite Christian books for children, organised into categories. These are not all the books that we own, but they are the ones that I think have been particularly beneficial. I hope it's helpful!

Some Good Books

Children's Bibles

The Big Picture Story Bible by David Helm

This tells the story of the Bible from Creation to New Creation in simple but clear language. There are lovely illustrations which help to tell the story, and point to the themes that run through scripture.

The Beginner's Bible by Kelly Pulley

A great first Bible for toddlers, with a wide variety of Bible stories told simply and clearly.

The Gospel Story Bible by Marty Machowski

This is a new addition to our collection, and I really like it. There are many more Bible stories included than in any of our other Bibles, and the author clearly ties the individual stories into the bigger narrative of the Bible, pointing to Jesus all the time.

The Biggest Story by Kevin DeYoung

In many ways, this does the same job as The Big Picture Story Bible, but both the text and the pictures are aimed at slightly older children. It's only ten chapters long, but we have enjoyed it. My older children enjoy studying the illustrations.

Christian  Fiction

Treasures of the Snow by Patricia St. John

One of my favourite books as a child, I have loved sharing it with my own children. They all highly recommend it too. Patricia St. John writes beautifully, with exciting and engaging stories, which are full of Jesus. At the heart of all her books are children who come to know Jesus for themselves.

Treasures of the Snow is set in Switzerland, and tells the story of a bitter argument between two very different children which has awful consequences, and how reconciliation only comes as they each turn to Christ. It deals with sin, pride, bitterness, fear, and the love of Christ. Tears flow freely in this house whenever I read it!

The Mystery of Pheasant Cottage by Patricia St. John

Lucy lives with her grandparents as her mother died when she was a baby. There is a mystery about her father which she seeks to unravel, and as she does so she comes face to face with what it means to trust Jesus.

The Tanglewoods' Secret by Patricia St. John

A story about a naughty girl with a short fuse, her angelic-on-the-outside older brother, and a boy they befriend. Beautifully written, and dealing what it means to trust Jesus in the face of death, this is another favourite in our home.

Rainbow Garden by Patricia St. John

A spoilt girl from London moves to Wales to live with a large, Christian family. She has to learn about her own selfishness and sin, and about where real joy can be found.

Star of Light by Patricia St. John

This story is set in Morocco, and centres on the lives of two poor children from a Muslim family who learn about Jesus.

Twice Freed by Patricia St. John

The author imagines the backstory to Onesimus, the slave that we read about in the book of Philemon in the New Testament. A great story about forgiveness and true freedom, set all over the Roman world.

The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson

This is a series of four fantasy books with clear Christian themes and ideas woven all the way through. I have written about them here. The picture of redemption is particularly beautiful. I would recommend them for any children who enjoy fantasy books.

Jungle Doctor Books by Paul White

These stories (written from the 1940's on) are based on the real life experiences of the author as a missionary doctor in Africa. They are entertaining, thought provoking, inspiring, and funny. Our children have loved them.

Crown & Covenant Series by Douglas Bond

This is a series of three books, beginning with Duncan's War, which is set in 17th century Scotland. It tells about trials and persecutions faced by the Scottish Covenanters through the lives of the M'Kethe family.

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S.Lewis

Classic stories set in the magical world of Narnia; full of gospel truth, these are family favourites.

The Roman Mystery Series by Caroline Lawrence

These are not strictly Christian books; they are sold in secular bookshops and are widely read - but the author is a Christian and this shows in her writing. The stories are set in ancient Rome and feature key characters who are Christians, and throughout the series Christianity is portrayed positively. Forgiveness found in Jesus is shown clearly, and some characters become Christians. They are also brilliant fun to read - and there are 17 of them, which is great if you have children who read quickly and need lots of material!

Biography

There are lots of Christian biographies for children, but I have found that many are not all that well written. I've included our favourites!

When Lightning Struck by Danika Cooley

This is a new biography of Martin Luther written for older children. My 10 year old loved it, and was able to tell us about what he had been reading when we were studying the Reformation recently.

Nate Saint: On a Wing and a Prayer by Janet and Geoff Benge

I find many Christian biographies written for children frustratingly poorly written, but this was excellent. Nate Saint was martyred with four other missionaries in Ecuador, and this book tells the story of his life and faith. I have a house full of boys, and they loved the stories of his inventions and the account of his unusual childhood, and were also gripped by the story of Nate Saint's life as a missionary pilot.

Jim Elliot: One Great Purpose by Janet and Geoff Benge

An engaging, dramatic account of the inspirational life of Jim Elliot, one of the other missionaries martyred in the Ecuadorian jungle.

Augustine: The Truth Seeker by K.C. Murdarasi

This is a simple, clearly told biography of Augustine.

John Calvin: After Darkness Light by Catherine Mackenzie

This is a great introduction to a key figure in the Reformation.

Hudson Taylor: An Adventure Begins by Catherine Mackenzie

Hudson Taylor was a pioneering missionary to China, and this is a good, simple account of his life.

John Paton: South Sea Island Rescue by Kay Walsh

This is a dramatic account of the life of a missionary to South Sea Island.

Little Light Series by Catherine Mackenzie

We have a number of these picture books, and they are a great set of books for young children. In simple, appropriate ways, they introduce children to the lives of those who have lived for Christ is all sorts of contexts.

Christian Living

How to be a Bible Warrior by C.M. Mackenzie

The author looks at various warriors in the Bible, and their trust in God.  She also points clearly to Jesus, and his work on the cross in defeating sin and death. She also shows what it means to fight against sin as followers of Jesus.

A Boys' Guide to Making Really Good Choices by Jim George

Practical, Biblical guide for boys who want to know how to put their trust in Jesus into practice.

A Boy After God's Own Heart by Jim George

Similar to A Boys' Guide to Making Really Good Choices - lots of good, practical examples of how to live for Christ. My boys liked the fact that you have to think for yourself as you read it.

Commanded: Your Mission: Loving Others God's Way by L.H. Martin

Another practical book about how to live out your life as a forgiven follower of Jesus.

A Young Person's Guide to Knowing God by Patricia St. John

Illustrated by stories with a message, Patricia St.John teaches truth about God from the Bible. There are key points to learn and simple prayers to pray.

The Radical Book for Kids by Champ Thornton

This is a new addition to our family library, and contains a whole mix of material: from biography to activities to do, from background to Biblical history to apologetic material, from Bible facts to thoughts about how to live for Jesus. It's a great resource for children who like leafing through fact books.

Theology

The Ology by Marty Machowski

This is an excellent, beautifully illustrated systematic theology for children. I have written more about it here.

Everything a Child Should Know About God by Kenneth N. Taylor

This is a simple book of truths about God written for very young children. It has been much loved in this house.

Prayer

My First Book of Bible Prayers by Philip Ross

This is a very small book for young children. My 8 year old really likes using it as it gives him ideas from the Bible for his prayers.

Apologetics

Case for Christ for Kids by Lee Strobel with Rob Suggs & Robert Elmer

A good introduction to the reasons why we can be confident in what we believe from the Bible.

Case for Christ for Youth by Lee Strobel with Rob Suggs & Robert Elmer

As above, but aimed for older children/teenagers. My older boys have enjoyed this and found it helpful.

Church History

Chronicles of the Ancient Church by Mindy and Brandon Withrow

These volumes tell the story of church history by focusing on the lives of key individuals. The accounts are very well told. There are also short sections which explain key ideas in Christianity along the way, which is very helpful.

The Church History ABCs by Stephen J. Nichols

This is a great picture book for children which looks briefly at the lives of 26 Christians throughout history. Fun to read, and a good way to get children engaged with church history from a young age.

Reformation ABCs by Stephen J. Nichols

An illustrated introduction to the Reformation, featuring key people, ideas and places. An excellent book about the Reformation for young children.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Happy Birthday! Family traditions

Today my second son turned ten. He has spent most of the day in our paddling pool as the weather is so very hot, and apparently this has made it one of his best ever birthdays!

No book work for the children on their birthdays is one of our family traditions. It means that we can have a relaxed start to the day, and they can have time to play with any new presents and start any new books.

This makes it easier to fit in another birthday tradition - the birthday child's choice of breakfast. We often cook breakfast anyway, but the children usually choose pancakes for breakfast on their birthdays, which is a bit more time consuming.

When the children were younger, we allowed them to choose what theme or design that they would like for their birthday cake, and we would attempt to make what they asked for. As they have grown older, they have increasingly wanted to help make their own cakes, especially with the decoration.

My eldest helped quite a bit with his dalek cake last year:

Dalek Cake

My 8 year old covered his dinosaur cake in smarties:

Stegosaurus Cake

Yesterday, my now 10 year old spent hours in the kitchen creating this masterpiece, with very little help from me at all:

The finished cake...

...with a surprise in the middle!

He loves baking, and has been planning this for weeks.

When my eldest turned 10, we decided that we'd add two new "gifts" for his birthday: a new privilege, and an additional responsibility. We did the same for our second son today. He will now receive a more substantial (though still not enormous) amount of weekly pocket money, and he has some additional cleaning to do each week. It's not a massive change - he already has a fair number of regular chores - but it is a way of us indicating that we expect his responsibilities to increase as he gets older, and that the freedoms and privileges that come with age are tied to these responsibilities.

Of course, we also have presents and cards, and often a party or at least a birthday tea with friends (depending on the preferences of each child). Often, our celebrations are fairly simple, but they are remembered fondly and anticipated eagerly.



Friday, 16 June 2017

Friday Reflections - 60

We're nearly there - a week into the final half term of the year, and we are all anticipating the summer holidays eagerly. There is a mixture of wanting to push ahead to get the final pages of our work finished up, and a general tiredness which means that we need to take things a bit more slowly. Happily, we are well on track to finish on time, so there is a little bit of space for me to lighten the load if I think we need it.

I decided that we could manage well enough this week if we had an easier Monday. I scheduled nothing except history, art, and swimming lessons. We also went for a walk (including some trampolining on an abandoned mattress), and did some educational cooking at the childrens' request.

Running up the hill via a mattress.


My daughter helped make these egg-men in bread, which are supposed to represent God giving his people a home, from our bake-through-the Bible cookbook - which has been a bit neglected recently. A quiet day was a good opportunity to pick it up again.



My 9 year old asked if he could do an activity from one of the science books that has been shortlisted for the Royal Society Young People's Book Prize, which they are reading through as our home education group is one of the judging panels again this year. He chose to make a baked Alaska - which was great fun as well as a good opportunity to talk about science!

Baked Alaska

It worked! Ice cream still frozen.


It also tasted good!

We took the afternoon to complete an art lesson, drawing fish using a video from ArtAchieve.


After a more restful Monday than usual, we continued our week with our normal routine lessons. Highlights included making a sundial in the garden for science. It's perfect weather for it, and it worked really well.

My 8 year old building a sundial.

Next week will include a 10th birthday, and, according to the weather forecast, some hot days. I will adjust plans accordingly!

Friday, 9 June 2017

Friday Reflections - 59

This Friday evening, I am feeling a little bleary-eyed after a broken night following the election results. An atypical end to a week that has included a beautiful parkrun in Durham, a visit to a windmill in Brixton, and my daughter outrunning the police!

The election has been a frequent topic of conversation in our house (I've written here about engaging children in politics). The older two are fascinated, and have an increasing grasp of the nuances of politics. My 8 year old also enjoyed learning a little more about our democracy, and my 5 year old insisted on joining in our family election prediction competition although she doesn't properly understand what is going on yet. In fact, she won the competition as her haphazard guessing was more accurate than anyone else's considered prediction.

Predicting the results of the general election.

Our trip to Brixton Windmill was worthwhile. It is certainly an unexpected sight in a little London park. The children enjoyed climbing up to the top of the windmill and learning about how it worked in the past. They were also able to watch the electric mill in action, and also to try out milling by hand.

Brixton Windmill

Before we began our long journey south last Saturday, I took my daughter to the Durham parkrun, as she is so enthusiastic about running at the moment. It was fun to try a different course, and my 5 year old managed to run the whole distance again. Michael and the boys watched us and shouted encouragement. Some of the boys are keen to join us soon - but they want to build up to managing the whole 5km first.

Durham Parkrun

When I took the children running during the week, my 5 year old ran so far ahead of me on our 2 mile run (2 laps of the park) that some policemen thought she was unaccompanied and tried to catch up with her - but couldn't keep up! I know this because another police officer caught up with her on his bike and told me about it. To be fair, I was not far behind, and she was running to my friend who was waiting for her in the playground - but she has been told not to go so far ahead next time nonetheless...

She was unaware of all this until the end of her two mile run, is completely unfazed by it all - just thrilled that she outran everyone - and she was fast! More running tomorrow as she has been counting down the days until her next parkrun.

As often on a Friday, we had our home education group. We were looking at Ecuador, and the children completed crafts about the rainforest layers. We also had our book groups where, in addition to our usual activities, we distributed the science books which have been shortlisted for the Royal Society Young People's Book Prize, for which our home education group is a judging panel. It was great fun last year, and there is already a lot of excitement about this year's books. My children are already asking if we can microwave marshmallows - and I'm sure that many more activities will be inspired by these excellent looking books.

Rainforest Picture


Thursday, 8 June 2017

Committed Reader Books (10 Year Old's Choices)

The Christian reading challenge that we embarked upon at the beginning of the year is still going well, and my 10 year old is ready to begin the Committed level. Here are the books that he has chosen:

1) A book from a theological viewpoint you disagree with: Monks and Mystics by Mindy & Brandon Withrow
2) A book about Christian living:  Commanded by L. H. Martin
3) A book about apologetics: Your Verdict on the Empty Tomb by Val Grieve
4) A book of your choice: The Dragonfly Pool by Eva Ibbotson
5) A humorous book: Captain Underpants & The Revolting Revenge of the Radioactive Robo-Boxers by Dav Pilkey
6) A book based on a true story: The Man Who Never Was by Ewen Montagu
7) A book about prayer: Enjoy your Prayer Life by Michael Reeve
8) A book of poetry: The Mighty Slide by Allan Ahlberg
9) A book with a one-word title: Coraline by Neil Gaiman
10) A book by Sinclair Ferguson: The Magnificent Amazing Time Machine: A Journey Back to the Cross by Sinclair Ferguson
11) A novel by an author you have never read before: The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander
12) A book about Christian living: A Young Person’s Guide to Knowing God by Patricia St. John
13) A memoir or autobiography:  Children of the Storm by Natasha Vins
14) A play by William Shakespeare: Tales from Shakespeare by Charles & Mary Lamb
15) A book of your choice: The Secret Keepers by Trenton Lee Stewart
16) A book written by an author with initials in their name: Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome
17) A book by a female author: Black Hearts in Battersea by Joan Aiken
18) A book about theology: Courage and Conviction by Mindy & Brandon Withrow
19) A book published by Crossway: Reformation ABCs by Stephen J. Nichols
20) A self-improvement book: Learning to be Happy by Jeremiah Burroughs
21) A graphic novel: Tintin and the Broken Ear by Herge
22) A book you own but have never read: Millions: The Not-So-Great Train Robbery by Frank Cottrell Boyce
23) A book targeted at the other gender: Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfield
24) A book about Christian living: The Radical Book for Kids by Champ Thornton
25) A book of your choice: Ink Heart by Cornelia Funke
26) A book about race or racial issues: When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr

Friday, 2 June 2017

Friday Reflections - 58

We have spent this last week in the north east of England, having house-swapped with some friends. A complete change of scene and of pace of life has been restorative, and we have filled our week with a variety of activities that we can't normally enjoy.

We began at a bird reserve, where we caught sight of various birds that we don't usually see, including a spoohbill that a member of staff showed to us through a telescope.

Gleeful Girl 

Spot the Difference (They Insisted on Identical Coats!)
One visit was to Beamish, an outdoor museum where in various sections different aspects of life in the past are reconstructed. The children particularly appreciated the Pit Village and the Town, both of which depict life in the 1900s. They even got to go to school!

The mine visit was popular.

Practising handwriting, maths, and Latin - voluntarily!

Glorious sunshine meant a trip to the beach was in order. Splashing in the water, playing catch, digging sandcastles, eating ice creams, and, inevitably, reading all featured.

Sunny Day by the Sea

Reading on the Beach

Yesterday we headed off to visit Housesteads Roman Fort and Hadrian's Wall. I'm sure the children took in some history as we wandered round, but most of all they decided that it was a great place for exploring and playing hide-and-seek. Plus, I came home with a Latin crossword book from the gift shop - so we were all happy.

Housesteads Roman Fort

Exploring the Fort

Hadrian's Wall

Hiding in a Hypocaust 

Amidst all this, we have managed some quiet mornings and evenings, involving reading and resting and some running. I hope that we will go back sufficiently energised to face our final half term and finish our academic year well.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Friday Reflections - 57

Last Saturday, as planned, I took my daughter to parkrun. It was hard work for her, but she kept on running for the whole 5km, and was delighted to have managed it. She's been counting down the days until the next run (tomorrow)!

Post-Running Photo

Beautiful sunshine, half term approaching, the summer holidays in sight; all this seems to make everything feel a little less fraught - some of the time. The children all seem to be at about the stage I'd like them to be at at this time of year, so we should be able to finish steadily rather than in a rush.

We've been in the garden more, and enjoyed our walks together.

Some Unusual Statues

Bubbles in the Rose Garden

More Statues...

Cuddles with the Guinea Pigs

Today we met for our home education group. We were looking at Chile, and we made bubble wands from copper wire since copper is the main export of Chile. A little tenuous, but great fun to make, and we had the perfect weather to try them out in the church garden at the end of our session. I was pleased that they worked!

Bubble Wands made from Copper Wire

Next week, we are swapping houses with some friends who live in the North East of England, so we eagerly anticipating a week away with all sorts of trips out planned. A break from routine and from lessons will be welcomed by us all.